By David Andrew Weinberg
On New Year’s Day, Iranian officials acting with the support of Supreme Leader Khamenei released the full results of Iran’s third major collection of political cartoons aimed at promoting Holocaust denial. Past contests on this horrendous topic were notoriously held with Iranian state support in 2006 and 2016.
Yet again, Iran’s effort came in response to a European publication promoting offensive caricatures of the Prophet Muhammed – most recently, following an announcement by the French magazine Charlie Hebdo that it would republish its 2015 cartoons on the subject. And as in previous cases, Iranian officials made clear that their intention was two-fold: to challenge Europe’s approach to freedom of speech that permits demeaning Islam’s messenger but forbids Holocaust denial; plus also asserting that Palestinians were unfairly forced to pay for European crimes, thus reinforcing the regime’s narrative that the State of Israel is illegitimate.
This one, comprehensive cartoon contest was originally going to be titled The Compensation for the Holocaust (although some sources translated it into English as The Atonement of the Holocaust). However, events intervened, and the effort was consequently split into two separate collections.
The first intervening event was the Kingdom of Bahrain’s normalization announcement with the State of Israel and joining the United Arab Emirates for a historic signing ceremony with Israel on the White House lawn. As a result, when Tehran’s cartoon contest was formally launched on September 22nd its title was changed to Palestine is Not Alone. Holocaust denial and Charlie Hebdo were mentioned as possible themes during the contest’s launch event but were not officially part of the contest categories or submission criteria.
Second, French President Emmanuel Macron proclaimed “we will not give up cartoons” at a memorial for a teacher killed by an extremist for showing Charlie Hebdo cartoons to his class. Tehran took this as Macron’s endorsement of blasphemy against the Prophet Muhammad, as well as a renewed reason to resuscitate its Holocaust denial effort to mobilize anger at France.
Although the Palestine is Not Alone contest was already scheduled to stay open for submissions until December, in the meantime organizers announced the urgent launch of a separate, smaller collection of materials focused specifically on condemning Macron. It was titled The Lies of the Holocaust and aimed at generating posters for an incendiary protest at France’s Embassy in Tehran.
Cartoons promoted in connection with Iran’s Holocaust Lies collection and the demonstration in Tehran encouraged Holocaust denial, antisemitic tropes, and demonization of French President Macron in numerous grotesque and intolerant ways. Many portrayed him as a long-nosed, devious tool of international Jewry, a snake-tongued or devilish monster, and a purveyor of filth and even Nazism itself. In many instances, the cartoons explicitly cited recent remarks on the subject by Iran’s supreme leader, suggested exploitation or exaggeration of the Nazi genocide, and bloodsucking Jews.